Presented on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in the Barn at Quarry Farm as part of the "Mark Twain and Nature" Quarry Farm Symposium.
This article will trace Mark Twain's early notes and letters to the Sacramento Union and Alta California during his four-month stay on the Hawaiian islands in 1866 and his subsequent trip down the Rio San Juan in Nicaragua later that year, considering his poetic meditations on a diversity of flora and fauna alongside his occasionally direct and sometimes elusive commentaries on territorial annexation, missionization, and settler-occupation in the Pacific and beyond. Reading across a colonial archive of nineteenth century environmental surveys of the Pacific atolls and the Central American isthmus, this article will highlight Twain's alignment toward and departure from a tradition of writing about non-European ecologies as bearers of disease and decomposition, dangers to the legibility and coherence of a traveler's corporeality. Twain's ambivalent, non-Western ecologies, I argue, mark a politics that extends well beyond his familiar satires and pointed expositions, offering pathways for re-imagining the place of non-human environments throughout his subsequent literary canon.
Ryan Heryford is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Literature in the Department of English at California State University, East Bay, where he teaches courses in nineteenth and twentieth century American literature, with a focus on eco-criticism and cultural narratives of environmental justice. He has published works on environmental thought in the writings of William Faulkner, Herman Melville, and Edouard Glissant. His current book-length project, The "Snugness of Being:" Nineteenth Century American Literary Vitalisms, explores the influence of nineteenth century environmental and bio-medical philosophy on constructions of self and subjectivity in Thoreau, Poe, Dickinson, and Melville.